December 15, 2023

Holy Family Shelter helps a father find the perfect Christmas gift for his two children

Darren Highbaugh basks in the love of his children, 9-year-old Daranasia and 6-year-old Darren Jr. at Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Darren Highbaugh basks in the love of his children, 9-year-old Daranasia and 6-year-old Darren Jr. at Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Like most parents of young children, Darren Highbaugh wants to get the perfect Christmas gift for them.

And considering all the struggles and heartbreaks that Highbaugh and his 9-year-old daughter and his 6-year-old son have faced in recent years, his desire to give them that special gift is even more intense.

Highbaugh will soon share what that Christmas gift is, but right now he is explaining why it’s so important to him, beginning with the downward spiral in his family’s life that began a few years ago.

“My wife had a substance abuse problem that skipped out of control. I was the only provider at the time. Then I got injured at work, and I couldn’t work. The pain was so horrific,” says Highbaugh, who is wheelchair-bound because of the nerve injury to his back when he was a machine operator.

“Then she decided to walk out on us. I’m left with two children. I had to find some type of way to pull us back together. I went through our complete savings, through the kids crying and being upset, and then we moved into the van.”

After living in a van for a couple of days, the family of three bounced from one homeless shelter to another in Indianapolis, eventually moving during February of this year into Holy Family Shelter, a shelter operated by the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities Indianapolis. It’s there where Highbaugh learned the news this fall that his wife had been murdered.

“That’s been devastating for me and the children,” he says. “My daughter wrote me a note today saying how much she missed her mommy and how much she loved her mommy. Some days are really good, and some days are bad. I’m just trying to hold us together.”

‘If that happens, it will be a terrific Christmas present’

As he explains his family’s struggles and heartbreaks, Highbaugh is just several minutes removed from smiling and greeting his children as they got off the school bus just outside Holy Family Shelter on an early December afternoon.

Inside the shelter, he says Holy Family has been a godsend, a refuge in the storm, for him, his daughter Daranasia and his son Darren Jr.

The shelter has also been extremely focused in helping Highbaugh move toward the one Christmas gift he desperately wants to give his children—a home of their own again.

“It’s been really great here,” Highbaugh says. “The staff has been tremendous in helping us and being very supportive to our needs. They’ve helped me out with the children a lot, with school clothes, counseling help, support. They have helped them mentally, physically. They give them three square meals a day. They have plenty of activities—holidays and birthdays.

“It means a lot because we had some issues before we got here. They’ve been pretty awesome.”

Maybe, most of all, they’ve given the family hope again.

“We’re hoping to move forward,” he says. “We’re looking for a safe and stable place to move in. If that happens, it will be a terrific Christmas present. There’s nothing like having your own place for your children, so they can get a sense of comfort and love. Being here at Holy Family has been great, terrific, but I think we need to move on, to try to get our life back.”

That gift could come soon. After Highbaugh was approved for his Social Security disability benefits in October, staff members at Holy Family Shelter helped connect him with the Homeless Initiative program of the City of Indianapolis.

“They have a program now where the city has released a certain number of Section 8 housing choice vouchers,” says Rachelle Frink, the assistant director of Holy Family Shelter. “He’s been awarded one. That will give him a tremendous amount of flexibility as far as housing is concerned. He would only be required to pay 30% of the rent amount.”

While also serving as the shelter’s case manager for Highbaugh and his children, Frink knows how rare their situation is.

“It’s unusual being a male-headed household of his age,” says Frink, a member of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis. “Mr. Highbaugh is a little bit older than the typical age of most of the families we serve—56, 57. Also, we don’t typically have single dads with such young children. His physical disability also makes their situation unique. He’s wheelchair-bound and unable to work. So that’s what stands out to me.”

So does his attitude and his approach to his children.

‘He’s nice, and he loves Jesus’

“As a dad, he loves his children to pieces,” Frink says. “He’s very attentive. He always just wants the best for them. But sometimes he gets a little bit nervous as it relates to his daughter—the things that go on in a girl her age. Sometimes that can be a little intimidating for a dad. He’s always seeking advice for those kinds of things.”

His children glow when they talk about their dad.

“He’s a good man, and he’s a very good father,” Daranasia says.

“He’s nice, and he loves Jesus,” Darren Jr. says. “And he reads the Bible every day.”

“I rely on the Most High,” their father says. “I’ve tried to put everything into God’s hands. Ask God for his help, his mercy and his grace. Every single day, day in and day out. I believe there’s no power that is stronger than God’s. So, I’m sure God’s got me.”

He smiles as he adds, “Even though there are some days when it seems that he don’t got me.” He pauses before continuing, “But I know he’s got me. It’s tough. But I have to say he wouldn’t put me in this position if he knew I couldn’t handle it. I’ve kept my faith that he will restore us.”

At the same time, he strives to be the best father he can be for his children.

“They went through some traumatic times,” Highbaugh says. “Ever since we lost our place, everything kept rolling downhill. But I kept embracing them, giving them love, showing them love. Really trying to enforce the Scripture reading. Standing in faith in God that he will bring us through this.

“I tell the kids their mother is in a better place. And that our Father just wanted her to come home, that it was time for her to go rest. I tell them she’s looking down on them, she’s in great hands, and we’ll meet her and see her later on.”

He takes a long breath before touching upon other parts of his approach as a father.

‘I give them big hugs and kisses’

“We try to read Scriptures together a lot,” he says. “Extended hugs. And be understanding sometimes when they’re acting out, because it’s hard for them to have only one parent. It’s a different type of living, especially for a little girl that’s growing up. She should have a mother to really talk to about girl things. I’m working on that. I always let them know I love them. I give them big hugs and kisses.”

As the time nears for giving his children the Christmas present that he desperately wants for them, Highbaugh also has a warm place in his heart this Christmas for the place that has been his family’s home for the past 10 months.

He especially cites the help and influence of Frink and Brenda Ray, the shelter’s manager of residential services.

“Rachelle is a great help. And Miss Brenda is just terrific with them. Miss Brenda has been my backup. She’s always been there for my daughter. She takes them on the field trips. She’s been a great help.

“If I could recommend anyone to this center, I would. It’s a great group of people. They genuinely care, and they’re very attentive to your needs and wants. The staff is just outstanding here. We couldn’t ask for a better place to be.”

(Holy Family Shelter always welcomes volunteers, monetary donations and donated items to help people making the transition from a shelter to a new life. Secure online donations can be made by going to and clicking on the “Give Now” link, or checks can be made payable to Holy Family Shelter and mailed directly to the shelter at 907 N. Holmes Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46222-3714. The shelter can also be contacted by phone at 317-635-7830.)

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